We all have had personal experience with either being reluctant to go see a therapist ourselves, or living with the frustration involved when someone we love drags his or her feet at the prospect of “getting some help,” as we like to say. What makes it so painfully difficult to reach out for counseling? Bad information is often involved. I’d like to address some widespread myths that get in the way:
MYTH: Therapy doesn’t do anything that a chat with my best friend couldn’t do, so why bother?
TRUTH: While friendships are important for everyone, they are not the same as therapy. Therapy is designed to help you see what it is not possible for you to see about yourself, in an objective and caring environment in which you don’t have the burden of having to work to keep the other person engaged and paying attention.
MYTH: I’m not as messed up as my spouse/child/parent. Why should I be the one to get therapy?
TRUTH: Life is not a contest over who should be the first to do the right thing. Therapy is for people intelligent and courageous enough to realize that there is no way we can be completely objective about ourselves. (Einstein helped us figure that one out with his theory of relativity.) When something is obviously keeping you from firing on all cylinders in your relationship with yourself or with the significant people in your life, it is a clear signal suggesting that it may be time to seek counseling.
Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists
The Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP) is a professional organization of psychiatrists, psychiatry residents, and medical students which serves as a voice for the concerns of lesbians and gay men within the psychiatric community.
MYTH: I don’t want to spend the money.
TRUTH: In the first place, the cost might be covered by health insurance, and there are low-cost options available in most communities. But why would you not want to spend money on something that is likely to make your life better – possibly way better? Are you waiting for someone else to do that for you? Reluctance to pay for therapy just because you don’t like to part with your money can be a smokescreen to hide your worries about meeting the unknown in your own mind and about truly facing the reality of your life. Therapists are trained to make that process a reasonable one for you. Therapy helps you grow up, no matter what your chronological age is.
MYTH: Once you start therapy, it never ends. Just look at Woody Allen and his never-ending analysis.
TRUTH: Competent therapy has a beginning, middle, and end. Most often I work from a psychoanalytic framework, which generally does take a long time. However, the process might usefully be thought of as rewiring parts of the brain – not a quick task. But my expectation for every patient is that we will indeed one day say goodbye, because we will have cured the problems the patient came for help with. (That is one difference between analytic therapy and supportive therapy.)
MYTH: I don’t have time for therapy.
TRUTH: You might want to poll the people who love you before you go with that; they might want to ask you exactly what you think is more important to spend your time doing than improving your relationship with them. If we only have so much time on Planet Earth, doesn’t it make sense to get help sooner rather than later, especially if it means the help may improve your whole life?
MYTH: There’s no way to know if a particular therapist can be trusted.
TRUTH: Any career attracts a few bad apples. However, the psychotherapy field is full of competent, kind, highly-educated professionals with skills to help you. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out if a particular therapist is a good match for you. Are they licensed? Has their license been suspended at any point? Do they belong to the professional organization of their license (e.g,. the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)? Were they referred by someone you have reason to respect? Does their office convey a sense of professionalism? Do they demonstrate respect for your time? Are they clear about fees? Do they refrain from using your time to tell you about their personal lives? Do they make it clear that therapy takes place under strictly professional standards? Are they focused on listening to you? Are you comfortable talking with them?
MYTH: I should be able to figure things out myself without professional help.
TRUTH: Is that what you tell yourself when your car needs a tune-up? If your roof is leaking and needs attention, do you berate yourself for not fixing it yourself? Do you cut your own hair? Some things just can’t be done well by even the best intentioned untrained person. Therapy falls into that category. There is no shame in having problems – it’s part of being human. The shame is in letting matters fester, rather than call a therapist. Even therapists need therapists at some points.